Written by Marsha ( Marly) Kravetz, M.A., LMFT, LPC
                                                         "Strange fascination, fascinating me
                                                           Changes are taking the pace
                                                           I'm going through
                                                           Turn and face the Strange/Strain*
                                                           Time may change me
                                                           But I can't change time." 
                                                                                                           David Bowie, 
                                                                                                             from the song, "Changes"
In David Bowie's song "Changes", one of my favorite songs of the past (OK, I am really dating myself!), there was some serious debate between music aficionados and fans about whether Bowie's lyrics were  "Turn and face the Strange" or " Turn and face the Strain" . Even the sheet music lyrics varied.  (For what it's worth, I always heard it as "strange", not "strain").  Bowie (cleverly?) never answered the question. 
Life IS a series of frequent changes, sometimes big, sometimes small. Changes can generate "strange" (new, different, foreign, good, bad, conflicting) circumstances, situations and surroundings., but can "strain" our tolerances as well. So, how are transitions different from changes?  Changes are facts, realities, events , occurrences. Transitions are unique, individual psychological and emotional processes we undergo, based upon our life experiences, developmental life stage (which occur throughout the life span!), values, attitudes, and often " unfinished business " affecting our abilities to adjust and grow.
 S. Quick, a University of Kentucky specialist in human relations notes that                                 
                                     "Change is situational; transition is psychological.
                                             It’s not the events outside of us that make transitions; 
                                             it's the inner [process] used to incorporate those changes." 
While many changes are welcomed and exciting (a promotion; starting a new school year as a child, teen, OR adult /parent (!); a new family member; a move) they can still carry stresses which can feel (and be) anything from awkward and inconvenient to chaotic ~ even catastrophic, which can result in stress and anxiety . These states often trigger our moving into "survival mode", which desensitizes us to meeting basic needs. We may feel irritable and angry or stressed "for no apparent reason"(although we may blame it all on a current situation or person) indicating that our basic needs are "out of balance" (see previous article , "Beyond Survival: Balancing Basic Needs"). In our culture, productivity is often too much the focus, compromising our other basic needs. Home may no longer be a place of "peace"; we withdraw from nurturing ourselves by unhealthy eating, burying ourselves in our electronics, being preoccupied with worry to the point that we withdraw from those we love, even if we are "physically present". 
How we view change certainly makes a difference, but we make "transitions" better if we accept that there is loss and some grieving, even with "good" change. Why? Because we are giving up some things we counted on to be predictable in our lives. Our neurology needs structure as a framework to work around, so that we can feel "in control" about certain" givens in our lives. 
Let's go back to music for a moment . Transitions in music , or "segues" are intended to facilitate movement to a different verse in a song, i.e., a smooth transition.  The same concept is possible with life transitions, although some interruptions or blocks can get in the way . 
Let's say that you receive that promotion!

Congratulations!  A good thing, right ? Let's say, though, that the new position involves  different hours, more travel, or a longer commute. Time with family at the beginning and end of the day is reduced. One may have to adjust to new people, new routines or learn new skills and give up old ones, like social activities or lunch with coworkers. Routines and rituals are critical underpinnings that help deal with stress and change. Research shows that those who cope best with transitions have common characteristics. 
Transitions to change are not only emotional but visceral (physical),not just IN our present but TO our past . If enough factors "load" that are similar to events in the past which caused stress or trauma for us, there is often a "tipping point", where these similarities tap into a "cellular memory" and we respond as we have in the past . Think about a physical injury you may have experienced. You will likely find that near the anniversary date of that injury, you may feel more sensitivity, weakness, or even pain in the area of the injury, even if no additional injury has occurred. Your mind gives the message: " Be careful! You were vulnerable at this time last year!" And so your body responds, often even favoring your movements to protect the area of past injury. It's a survival response that will continue until your mind gets a different and concrete message that you are out of danger. Emotionally, the same thing happens and it is even more powerful, because cellular memory that is emotionally based may have first started when we were very young, even before we could express our fears or feelings, but they still were there. Feelings are forms of energy: they don't "go away" but take a different form - as other emotions and/or physical sensations which may present as aches, pains, fatigue, anxiety states, lowered immune function, etc. We say "I don't know why I feel this way!" (especially regarding strong "negative" emotions, like guilt, insecurity, hopelessness, "out~of~sync", clumsiness, dull-wittedness, incompetence , etc. that we attribute to ourselves when we are stressed).
 Something to remember: 
It's a common situation for a client to come in, expressing frustration that "nothing seems to be going right", but they can't identify reasons or events that have triggered these feelings or situations.. What is easy to miss is that our "bodyminds" are likely "in transition" from multiple changes over the last few weeks or months !! We say, "Oh, but I got through that OK- THAT's  over and DONE!" But realistically (and unlike music) these transitions weren't smooth or even complete. We may have adjusted well at work, but home and family routines have suffered.  Often, we have activated stress hormones to adjust to change , which may take some time to show their effects physically and emotionally.  We have likely put aside meeting  at least some basic needs to accomplish the transitions. (For example, my first question to a client: " How's your sleep ? - the first red flag that a transition is negatively affecting us in some way. 
Our self esteem or sense of self~worth suffers and we become more sensitive, taking things personally that we might normally ignore: 
                                                  When the cow jumped over the moon ...
 So, What DO we do?? What characteristics or attitudes help transitons?

Researchers have identified the characteristics of adults who maintain their physical and mental health in spite of stressful transitions after studying survivors of the revolution, migration, the farm crisis, survivors of concentration camps, the Vietnam war, cancer, and depression. Distinguishing characteristics of survivors included their more positive perception or meaning of their life transition and an overall sense of coherence that "life makes sense."

“Health ” executive characteristics include: a clear sense of personal values, goals and capabilities; use of inner resources; positive reinterpretation of the transition; and internal belief that the effects depend upon how one handles the change.

Research has focused upon resilient children who were at risk of emotional ill health, but who demonstrated unusual psychological strengths despite a history of severe and/or prolonged psychological stress . Factors positively affecting their adjustment to change were a) the child's perceptions, i.e., a tendency to perceive experiences constructively with minimal fear, b) the ability to ask for adult help when needed; c) a close attentive bond with at least one caregiver in first year of life; d) provision of  structured households with reasonable (not rigid or harsh) rules and assigned chores, and e) the child having at least one close friend and confidant outside the family.

Healthy families find the capacity to cope and transition by emphasizing  family members' sense of control over their lives, commitment to the family, confidence that the family will survive no matter what, and the ability to grow, learn, and challenge each other.

On the other hand, McCubbin and Thompson identified characteristics of vulnerable, fragile families. They are “more complacent, less likely to try new and exciting things, [are inclined] ... to do the same things over and over, and are less likely to encourage each other to be active and to learn new things.” They “perceive themselves as being closed in their communication, resistant to compromise, set in their ways,” inexperienced in shifting responsibilities among family members, and not likely to involve all family members in the making of major decisions.

In comparison, invulnerable, regenerative families “try new things, encourage others to be active in addressing their problems and concerns ... are active, in control, and, when faced with difficulties, are also more caring, loyal and more tolerant of hardships.” Resilient families “indicate that they have a major strength in their ability to change.” They “view themselves as being able to say what they want, as having input into major decisions, as being able to shape rules and practices in the family, as well as being able to compromise; they are experienced in shifting responsibilities in the family unit, and willing to experiment with new ways of dealing with problems and issues.”

Here are some thoughts  and simple suggestions where " mindfulness"  and " making small changes"   are among your best tools! 
~ BREATHE!!  Nothing helps us more than getting some oxygen to our brain, nerves, and muscles.
   Take a couple of slow, deep  breaths, then allow your breathing to return to its normal rhythm.
~ TRY not to take on too much change at a time. Use the acronym P.A.C.E.  to avoid 
     the tendency to go into "overdrive" (which releases more stress hormones , 
     exhausting us  and reducing our productivity)  to deal with change and its associated stresses :
   P.  (rioritize ) what  you can do something about in the next few minutes ; and put thoughts
        of other " to dos " aside for now . 
   A. (llow) more time than you think you will need to accomplish a task ( at least 25% more time ! ) 
         If you finish early, STOP AND DO NOTHING for the remaining time  you allowed to give
         your bodymind a concrete signal that you at rest. This reduces the output of stress hormones.
   C. (luster)  tasks into small parts, or chunks of activity to avoid  frustration, monotony or fatigue.
        Then, switch to an  unrelated activity briefly at another location nearby. ( When we feel " stuck", 
        anxious, or unproductive with a task, we can change our brain chemistry ( and how we
         think  and feel ) by  changing our activity AND changing our location. ( Short tasks using small, 
        detailed motor movements are the most effective in relieving stress, i.e., cleaning out a small
        drawer or cabinet, using small tools to repair an item, needlework, detailed coloring or painting, etc.) 
   E. (valuate)  what you have completed to give  a concrete message of closure to the brain. I often 
       have clients make a list and cross off what they have done , if they haven't already made a list; 
       Again, a concrete message to the brain "gets through"  and relieves the  stress and anxiety of  
       dealing with change . 
~TRY not to overthink every detail or scenario. 


~ USE simple , positive self talk ( internal dialogue ) to override thoughts and feelings that are provoking 
    stress and anxiety for you.  Even if you can't pinpoint the source ( which sometimes takes the form
    of " free- floating anxiety ~ YIKES !) give yourself messages instead, like: " That was then, this is now." 
    or " This will pass" , when your bodymind is responding as if the stress will last forever.

Negative messages to the bodymind.     
Positive messages to the  bodymind

~ STAY CONNECTED to positive caring, people. Research shows that adjustment  is not only personal but is achieved through significant social relationships. Our involvement in social relationships contributes is critical to our  mental and psychological health .

~  MAINTAIN  and DEVELOP  short, simple routines and rituals  at home and at work. Family meals,
    chores, togetherness, and other ordinary routines play an important role in creating continuity and 
    stability in family life  Honoring traditions, holidays and important family experiences carried 
    through generations validate that we are not alone in dealing with life.
~ BE STILL and allow yourself a few minutes a day to pray, meditate or just be still with yourself and let the emotional dust settle.
   On a personal note, I will say that the last year has been a period of transition for me.  I moved from Texas to Colorado after more than 20 years (!) of wanting to "make it happen". Many changes have occurred along the way creating opportunities for me.  Some were positive and welcomed; those which have challenged me most have also provided the most opportunity  for growth and awareness  It has been exciting to (finally ! ) make the move to the beauty of Colorado, to be closer to the small family I have , and to join the Interpersonal Healing Clinic practice with some amazingly gifted and skilled clinicians, who, now as friends, have  also become "extended family" for me. I so appreciate as well my clients who are dedicated , honest, and earnest in their work with me. I learn as much, if not more, from them as they do from me ! These connections have  enriched my life as the transition continues .
Of course, at times, I grieve the loss of friends in Texas,  as well as favorite and familiar locations and routines, while  I develop new ones here. I often think of my parents, now years departed, and how amazed they would be at our family's circle of life (with all of its complexities, ups and downs) and feel their hopes, joys, and spirits in the new lives of my grandchildren. I am grateful for all they taught me of what family is (and isn't !) about. Even when it has sometimes meant taking different paths than they, I appreciate the " foundations"  they provided me to work from.
(The best of me to the best of you!)
"Change is not something that we should fear. Rather, it is something that we should welcome. For without change, nothing in this world would ever grow or blossom, and no one in this world would ever move forward to become the person they're meant to be." 
                                                     Yoga legend B.K.S. Iyengar , who passed away this month  at age 95